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Adults with autism finding path to independence


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SALT LAKE CITY — Children with autism are growing up, leaving home, and making their way in a world that often doesn't understand them.

April is Autism Awareness month, and there is evidence that more employers are becoming aware of the unique skills adults with autism bring to the workforce. In fact, some adults with autism are using work and higher education to achieve independence.

Andrew Lyon became independent after he turned 20.

"It helped me feel more like an adult and not just a really big kid," Lyon said.

Lyon is autistic, but that didn't hold him back from moving out and getting a job in the library at Salt Lake Community College. Leaving the safety of his family home wasn't easy.

"I do feel like being outside that environment has helped me to find more of myself,"Lyon said.

Lyon's parents were worried when he moved out but happy with his success.

"I was really surprised at how well he did and how he has done. So glad that he went ahead and made this choice," said his mother, Kara Lyon.

Dr. William McMahon is chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Utah School of Medicine. He has been following a group of children with autism into adulthood in Utah. He started in the late 1980s and began publishing his findings in 2013.

"There's really a range of outcomes," McMahon said.

McMahon believes there has been a lag in research into autism in adults.

"I think adults are only now getting the attention that they deserve and there's some interesting things that have been found, " said McMahon.

It's not a disease that I'm recovering from. It's not something I'm trying to get over. It is something that informs how I experience the world and who I am as a person.

–Elliot Fields

One finding: some adults with autism have amazing abilities to retain information and write computer code.

Elliot Fields is one of those adults.

"I have a very logical mind. I have a very sequential mind, and that makes me very useful for developing computer programs or developing systems," Fields said.

Fields is married and develops software programs for the University of Utah. He'a also wrapping up a degree in multi-disciplinary design and will showcase a "movable light fixture" he created next month.

Fields believes he hasn't grown out of his autism, he's grown into it.

"It's not a disease that I'm recovering from. It's not something I'm trying to get over. It is something that informs how I experience the world and who I am as a person."

Fields is part of a growing number of highly intelligent adults with autism. But McMahon suggests adults of all skill levels can be successful. It starts with a job.

"Having supported employment gives them a meaningful outlet for their energy," said McMahon.

Lyon's job at the library has helped him to balance work, school and life.

"The hours are nice … how it's later in the day and I can still have time between work and school to eat, relax, and study," said Lyon.

It gives him time to study and reach even greater goals. Lyon will earn an associate's degree in music next month. It's part of a success story that nearly brings his mom to tears.

"He's really grown a ton, and it's been impressive," Kara Lyon said.

"I am more of my own person now," Lyon said.

This summer, Lyon will be back in the job market since his position at the SLCC Markosian Library will end with his graduation and will go to another full-time student.

With his experience and education, he feels confident he will be able to find a new job.


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